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Book Review: Cool for the Summer by Dahlia Adler

Publisher’s description

Dahlia Adler’s Cool for the Summer is a story of self-discovery and new love. It’s about the things we want and the things we need. And it’s about the people who will let us be who we are.

Lara’s had eyes for exactly one person throughout her three years of high school: Chase Harding. He’s tall, strong, sweet, a football star, and frankly, stupid hot. Oh, and he’s talking to her now. On purpose and everything. Maybe…flirting, even? No, wait, he’s definitely flirting, which is pretty much the sum of everything Lara’s wanted out of life.

Except she’s haunted by a memory. A memory of a confusing, romantic, strangely perfect summer spent with a girl named Jasmine. A memory that becomes a confusing, disorienting present when Jasmine herself walks through the front doors of the school to see Lara and Chase chatting it up in front of the lockers.

Lara has everything she ever wanted: a tight-knit group of friends, a job that borders on cool, and Chase, the boy of her literal dreams. But if she’s finally got the guy, why can’t she stop thinking about the girl?

Amanda’s thoughts

I’m the kind of human who has to have things done faaaar in advance to even begin to control my relatively uncontrolled anxiety. I’m typing this on April 16th. It has been weeks upon weeks of dogs dying, violent allergy reactions resulting in hives all over my face and eyes, worrying about getting a vaccine (first shot down yesterday!), and being just sick over the state of the world, particularly the state of things here in Minnesota. 13 months into the pandemic, 13 months into guiding my teen through distance learning, 13 months of having even MORE reasons to worry than I usually do. One of my adaptive behaviors has been to just seek out wholly enjoyable things. Endless International House Hunters? Check. Only reading books I find completely engaging and enjoyable? SUPER CHECK. Fiction, take me awayyyyyy!

That looong lead in is to say that I enjoyed the heck out of this book and it was totally what I needed as I sat here today swinging my arm around to hopefully stave off Covid arm. I had attempted to start this book earlier in the week, but my new enemy, hives, overtook my face and left me unable to do anything but sit quietly with ice on my face and listen to tv shows. But today! Today I read this book! All in one go! In the sun! With dogs! And for a few hours, I didn’t feel anxious or miserable or even part of reality. So thanks for that, Dahlia Adler!

The summary tells you exactly what you need to know. The plot may not seem big, but as I always harp on, what bigger plot is there than finding out who you are and what you want? Isn’t that so often THE plot of adolescence? Lara realizes that her group of best friends at school may not actually know the real her, especially as it kind of seems like her defining characteristic, according to them, has been that she’s been obsessed with Chase forever. Sort of one-dimensional. She knows she’s so much more than that. But once she starts dating Chase, and being known as “Chase’s girlfriend,” that characteristic seems to overpower everything. But you know who knows the real Lara? Jasmine, who Lara spent the summer hooking up with AND really getting close to.

Only she keeps what happened a secret from her friends. She tries to write it off even to herself as just something they did for fun, constantly coming up with excuses (even in the moment) for why things happened or what they meant or didn’t mean. But she kind of can’t ignore her complicated feelings now that Jasmine goes to her school. They manage to pretend like they don’t know each other, remain relatively distant, AND have soooo much miscommunication. So much. Good lord, girls. TALK TO EACH OTHER. BE HONEST. (I know, I know—easier said than done and also would eliminate the need for most of the story).

I enjoyed getting sucked into Lara’s world and watching her try to figure out what it all means with Jasmine and Chase as well as what being honest with herself might reveal. Lots of undeveloped and unnecessary side characters kind of only crop up when useful, and I really deeply disliked Lara’s best friend (who, I would argue from the vantage point of adulthood, is maybe not even really her friend at all), but this fun, light look at questioning your identity while not necessarily wanting any labels will surely find many readers.

Review copy (ARC) courtesy of the publisher

ISBN-13: 9781250765826
Publisher: St. Martin’s Publishing Group
Publication date: 05/11/2021
Age Range: 14 – 18 Years

Big Bend National Park and MG/YA Novels Exploring National Parks, a guest post by Cliff Burke

I didn’t visit any of the famous National Parks until I was in my mid-twenties. I did visit Hershey Park in Pennsylvania, and many amusement parks, and the local section of the Cuyahoga County National Park where I grew up. But I never experienced the mountains or majesty I always associated with National Parks.

This changed when I was invited to join two friends on road trip that traversed Glacier, Grand Teton, and Yellowstone National Parks. I was awestruck by their beauty. Here were the mountains and the majesty and the crisp air and the unspoiled natural beauty I had been promised by old posters and educational films. But, as a writer, I was equally interested in observing other people partaking of the beauty of the parks, and I started to notice a recurring trend. There were a lot of families and most of them had a least one member of the traveling party who was ready to sit down for a while or go home entirely.

When I got back, I wrote down the note – kid forced to appreciate nature on a family vacation – and started building what eventually became An Occasionally Happy Family. I had been living in Austin for about 5 years at the time, and I decided to set most of the story in in the nearest national park – Big Bend. If you do a quick search of Big Bend National Park, the first several results are about how unpopular it is – top 10 least visited national parks, one of the lowest attended parks of the past 20 years. Its own travel brochure described the Park as a “weather-beaten desert” within the opening paragraphs. That is exactly the kind of place where a kid already not inclined to enjoy nature would be particularly aggrieved.

I did as much research as I could online but knew I couldn’t write about it accurately without visiting. While it is certainly weather beaten, and a desert, the park is also stunning, and filled with enough distinct features to write several books. I spent several days hiking, takes lots of pictures, jotting down notes at night. I left with enough notes on locations – Chisos Mountains Trail, Santa Elena Canyon, Boquillas Hot Springs, the nearby city of Terlingua Ghost Town – and natural phenomena – black bears, rare birds, dry air – to organize all of the beats of the book when I returned.

It’s now been over a full year since I’ve visited a National Park (though plan to very soon!) and have instead had to rely on books to help me travel across the protected lands of the U.S. Below are some great recent books and one older favorite that explore Yosemite, The Grand Canyon, The Great Smoky Mountains, Chiricahua, and Yellowstone. If you’re not hitting the road this summer, these will keep you busy.

The Wolf Keepers by Elise Broach

Twelve-year-old Lizzie Durango and her dad have always had a zoo to call their home. Lizzie spends her days watching the animals and taking note of their various behaviors. Though the zoo makes for a unique home, it’s a hard place for Lizzie to make lasting friends. But all this changes one afternoon when she finds Tyler Briggs, a runaway who has secretly made the zoo his makeshift home. The two become friends and, just as quickly, stumble into a covert investigation involving the zoo wolves who are suddenly dying. Little do they know, this mystery will draw them into a high-stakes historical adventure involving the legend of John Muir as they try to navigate safely while lost in Yosemite National Park.

Downriver by Will Hobbs

No adults, no permit, no river map. After fifteen-year-old Jessie gets sent to Discovery Unlimited, an outdoor education program, she and six companions “borrow” the company’s rafting gear and take off down the Colorado River through the Grand Canyon on their own. Floating beneath sheer red walls, camping on white sand beaches, and exploring caves and waterfalls, Jessie and the others are having the time of their lives—at first. But when they’re pursued by helicopters, they boldly push on into the black-walled inner gorge, the heart of the Grand Canyon, only to encounter huge rapids, bone-chilling rain, injuries, and conflict within the group. What will be the consequences of their reckless adventure?

Willa of the Woods by Robert Beatty

Set in 1900 in the Great Smoky Mountains, it’s the story of an orphaned girl–gentle of heart, but brimming with the ancient forest powers of her people–who must struggle to survive in a changing world.

To Willa, a young night-spirit, humans are the murderers of trees. She’s been taught to despise them and steal from them. She’s her clan’s best thief, creeping into the log cabins of the day-folk under cover of darkness and taking what they won’t miss. It’s dangerous work, but Willa will do anything to win the approval of the padaran, the charismatic leader of the Faeran people.

When Willa’s curiosity leaves her hurt and stranded in the day-folk world, she calls upon the old powers of her beloved grandmother, and the unbreakable bonds of her forest allies, to survive. Only then does she begin to discover the shocking truth: that not all of her human enemies are the same, and that the foundations of her own Faeran society are crumbling. What do you do when you realize that the society you were born and raised in is rife with evil? Do you raise your voice? Do you stand up against it?



Distress Signals by Mary E. Lambert

Lavender’s class is on a field trip in the desert of Chiricahua National Park, hiking down a ravine, when a flash flood strikes! As the water hurtles down the ravine, everyone sprints for safety. Lavender runs in the opposite direction as the rest of her class and scrambles up a tree while the torrential river rages by.

When the waters finally recede, Lavender finds herself stranded in the brutal heat of the desert with only her ex-best friend Marisol, mean-girl Rachelle, and a boy named John. They are shaken, disoriented, and have just one pack of supplies and the most basic wilderness knowledge. Can they find their way back to safety? They will have to learn to work together in spite of their differences — if they want to survive.

Not Our Summer by Casie Bazay

It’s bad enough that estranged cousins Becka and KJ see each other at their grandfather’s funeral, but when he leaves them a bucket list of places to visit together over the summer, so they can earn their inheritance, it seems like things are about to get much worse.

However, with each trip the cousins complete—like riding mules into the Grand Canyon or encountering a bear and a hot tour guide at Yellowstone—they steadily learn about and begin to trust one another. That is until the truth behind Grandpa’s bucket list, and their family feud, is revealed, testing Becka and KJ far beyond their limits. Will they find a way to accept each other or will their grandpa’s wish to mend his divided family end up buried alongside him inside his grasshopper green casket?

Meet the author

Cliff Burke grew up in the suburbs of Cleveland, Ohio. He worked as a house painter, a parking lot attendant, and a sign-twirling dancing banana before graduating from the College of William and Mary. For the past ten years, he has taught reading and writing in China, Hong Kong, and Texas. Currently, he teaches writing and humanities at a middle school in the San Francisco Bay Area. An Occasionally Happy Family is his first novel.

You can follow him on Instagram or Goodreads.

An Occasionally Happy Family is out today and can be ordered here.

About An Occasionally Happy Family

Gordon Korman meets The Great Outdoors in this funny and moving debut about a boy who goes on a disastrous family vacation (sweltering heat! bear chases!) that ends with a terrible surprise: his dad’s new girlfriend.

There are zero reasons for Theo Ripley to look forward to his family vacation. Not only are he, sister Laura, and nature-obsessed Dad going to Big Bend, the least popular National Park, but once there, the family will be camping. And Theo is an indoor animal. It doesn’t help that this will be the first vacation they’re taking since Mom passed away.

Once there, the family contends with 110 degree days, wild bears, and an annoying amateur ornithologist and his awful teenage vlogger son. Then, Theo’s dad hits him with a whopper of a surprise: the whole trip is just a trick to introduce his secret new girlfriend.  

Theo tries to squash down the pain in his chest. But when it becomes clear that this is an auditioning-to-be-his-stepmom girlfriend, Theo must find a way to face his grief and talk to his dad before his family is forever changed.

ISBN-13: 9780358325673
Publisher: HMH Books
Publication date: 05/18/2021
Pages: 224
Age Range: 8 – 12 Years

Book Review: Thanks a Lot, Universe by Chad Lucas

Publisher’s description

A moving middle-grade debut for anyone who’s ever felt like they don’t belong

Brian has always been anxious, whether at home, or in class, or on the basketball court. His dad tries to get him to stand up for himself and his mom helps as much as she can, but after he and his brother are placed in foster care, Brian starts having panic attacks. And he doesn’t know if things will ever be “normal” again . . . Ezra’s always been popular. He’s friends with most of the kids on his basketball team—even Brian, who usually keeps to himself. But now, some of his friends have been acting differently, and Brian seems to be pulling away. Ezra wants to help, but he worries if he’s too nice to Brian, his friends will realize that he has a crush on him . . .
But when Brian and his brother run away, Ezra has no choice but to take the leap and reach out. Both boys have to decide if they’re willing to risk sharing parts of themselves they’d rather hide. But if they can be brave, they might just find the best in themselves—and each other.

Amanda’s thoughts

As you know, I get a lot of book mail here. I spend a lot of time sorting it, reading summaries, paging through to read a bit, and deciding what I want to read for potential review. I usually have a pile of “for sure read” among all my other piles, but sometimes those books sit for along time before I get to them, and then their summaries get buried under hundreds of others in my head. All of this is to say, this book has been in my “for sure read” for a while, but by the time I got to it, I didn’t remember much about why I’d pulled it. I’m so glad I DID pull it to read. It’s a really well done middle grade book about boys, friendship, families, emotions, vulnerability, trust, mistakes, coming out, and so much more. It also felt really fresh and unique, which is difficult for a book to achieve!

13-year-old Brian is quiet and anxious. He has social anxiety and, over the course of the story, also begins having panic attacks. He’s a really complicated and quietly funny kid who has some rough stuff going on at home. When we meet him, his dad has fled into hiding from the police and his mother attempts suicide with her stockpile of pills for mental health issues. She ends up in the hospital, which leaves Brian and his 9-year-old brother alone. They get put into foster care and Brian, who has been holding back so much, finally snaps. He punches his bully at school and takes off with his brother, running away and going on a small adventure while he processes what is happening in his life.

It’s from here, after these moments, that his life, while still immensely difficult and unfair, starts to be filled with love and support from all directions. One of his teachers takes in Brian and his brother, and her teenage son begins to bring Brian out of his shell as they bond over basketball, grief, loss, and more. Ezra, the other main character in this book (who also shares narration duties) has always been friendly with Brian, but makes a real effort to be there for him, standing up to the other kids who are being mean to Brian or talking trash about him, helping find him when he’s missing, and truly making Brian feel seen and supported. Ezra also has a crush on Brian and eventually confesses this to him and comes out to his friends and his sister.

The overwhelming message of this book is that it’s okay to be a mess and to cry. It’s okay to tell people you are going through hard things. It’s okay to rely on others to help you and support you. Themes of love, support, and acceptance are strong, as is the message that you are not your mistakes or bad choices. An emotional book full of heart.

Review copy (ARC) courtesy of the publisher

ISBN-13: 9781419751028
Publisher: Amulet Books
Publication date: 05/11/2021
Age Range: 10 – 14 Years

On Korean Food: Filling My Stories with What I Love, a guest post by Sarah Suk

When writing Made in Korea, a young adult romcom about two teens selling Korean beauty products at school and going head to head to out-sell each other (and maybe falling in love along the way), I knew I wanted to include many elements of Korean culture throughout the story. K-beauty, of course, as well as family dynamics, K-pop, and — I’m smiling to myself just writing this — Korean food.

Korean food is my greatest comfort. If I had to choose one last meal before I died, it would be my mom’s kimchi sujebi, a spicy hand torn noodle soup that immediately makes me feel like I’m at home. There is nothing more peaceful to me than the smell of roasted goguma (sweet potato) and a pot of brewing boricha (barley tea). In university, I spent a semester studying abroad in Seoul and some of my happiest memories include visiting street food vendors and walking through different neighbourhoods, hoddeok and bungeobbang in hand, feeling completely and utterly content. That’s sweet pancake filled with brown sugar and cinnamon, and fish-shaped bread stuffed with red bean paste, respectively. AKA some of my favourite snacks of all time.

Made in Korea features just a few dishes I love. To name a few: pajeon (scallion pancake), doenjang jjigae (soybean paste stew), and a brief mention of soondubu (spicy soft tofu stew). While the food serves more as details to the story rather than the main centerpiece of it, there is one item on the menu that does get more page time, more attention, and more sparklethan the rest. And that is the infamous Korean shaved ice dessert, bingsu.

The most common version of bingsu is patbingsu, red bean shaved ice, but these days there are many, many different kinds. Fruity bingsu layered with fresh strawberry slices or served in a carved-out honeydew, matcha bingsu topped with big scoops of green tea ice cream and sprinkled with bite sized mochi pieces, injeolmi bingsu that takes the classic Korean rice cake covered in powdered soybean and gives it a shaved ice twist… I mean, the genius just goes on.

I love bingsu so much that I once dreamed of becoming a bingsu blogger and traveling the world, eating and reviewing different kinds of shaved ice. That dream still lives somewhere in the back of my mind, just biding its time until the right moment. But for now, I keep the love alive by planting bingsu in my stories and gifting it to my characters. A little bit of writing advice: fill your stories with what you love.

Here’s the thing about food. It’s never really just about the food, is it? It’s also about what it carries. Culture, history, family traditions, childhood memories… Certain foods become intertwined with specific moments in life, like how I can never drink chai without thinking of the friend who introduced it to me at a tea party in her living room. Or how, whenever I eat churros, I’m reminded of that time at the amusement park when I saw a classmate who never smiled beaming for the first time with two churros in his hands, sharing them with his friends.

To share a meal with someone is to get a glimpse into their world. In a similar way, I’ve always loved reading about food in books because of what it showed me about the world within its pages. Sometimes I imagine my favourite characters pulling out a chair for me at their dinner table, smells wafting, mouths watering, and saying, “Take a seat. Here’s what we’re having.”

Meet the author

Sarah Suk (pronounced like soup with a K) lives in Vancouver, Canada where she writes stories and admires mountains. When she’s not writing, you can find her hanging out by the water, taking film photos, or eating a bowl of bingsu. Made in Korea is her first novel. You can visit her online at sarahsuk.com and on Twitter and Instagram @sarahaelisuk.

Website: https://www.sarahsuk.com/

Twitter: https://twitter.com/sarahaelisuk

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/sarahaelisuk/

About Made in Korea

Out May 18, 2021!

Frankly in Love meets Shark Tank in this feel-good romantic comedy about two entrepreneurial Korean American teens who butt heads—and maybe fall in love—while running competing Korean beauty businesses at their high school.

There’s nothing Valerie Kwon loves more than making a good sale. Together with her cousin Charlie, they run V&C K-BEAUTY, their school’s most successful student-run enterprise. With each sale, Valerie gets closer to taking her beloved and adventurous halmeoni to her dream city, Paris.

Enter the new kid in class, Wes Jung, who is determined to pursue music after graduation despite his parents’ major disapproval. When his classmates clamor to buy the K-pop branded beauty products his mom gave him to “make new friends,” he sees an opportunity—one that may be the key to help him pay for the music school tuition he knows his parents won’t cover…

What he doesn’t realize, though, is that he is now V&C K-BEAUTY’s biggest competitor.

Stakes are high as Valerie and Wes try to outsell each other, make the most money, and take the throne for the best business in school—all while trying to resist the undeniable spark that’s crackling between them. From hiring spies to all-or-nothing bets, the competition is much more than either of them bargained for.

But one thing is clear: only one Korean business can come out on top.

ISBN-13: 9781534474376
Publisher: Simon & Schuster Books For Young Readers
Publication date: 05/18/2021
Age Range: 12 – 18 Years

Friendly Ghosts, a guest post by Richard Fairgray

With the second graphic novel in the Black Sand Beach series coming out and the fourth one being planned, I’ve been thinking a lot about why I like scary stories.

If you’ve read the first one (or the in between one that’s just straight up scary stories without pictures) then you’ll get it when I say that I think being scared can be fun.

There’s no better feeling than the thrill of being terrified followed by the relief that the thing you were afraid of is actually quite funny. There’s also nothing scarier than something funny or silly turning out to be the most dangerous thing in the room. The reason I keep writing scary stories like this is simple: I enjoy being afraid; I always have. I enjoy sitting alone in the dark and wondering if the howling coyotes are getting closer or if they’re just louder because they’ve caught someone.

Text and illustrations copyright © 2021 by Richard Fairgray

I had a friend in high school (shocking, I know) who was terrible at telling stories. She’d get about halfway through the most interesting, gossip filled, thrilling recount of her weekend and everyone around her would be staring down at their Walkman and twirling their devil sticks just to have something to do. The story was great, this girl led an exceptionally interesting life, she just sucked at telling people about it. The worst part was that she knew it.

Then she found twenty dollars.

Text and illustrations copyright © 2021 by Richard Fairgray

Let me be clear, she didn’t really find twenty dollars. I just told her she had. I gave her an out. Now, when peoples’ eyes began glazing over, before they could reach for their Chatter Rings or Pro-Yo II, she’d abruptly stop the story by saying, “And then I found twenty dollars.”

Immediately the story became interesting, short, relatable and had a payoff that was worth it.

You can do the same thing by having someone die.

Let me give another example. I’m not really suggesting you kill all your friends, just do it in your head.

Text and illustrations copyright © 2021 by Richard Fairgray

When I was seven, I went on a field trip to a volcano. I was so excited to see all the lava and fire and duck out of the way of flying rocks that I never even considered this might be scheduled on a day when the volcano wasn’t erupting. So, my whole day was filled with identifying rocks and listening to a man in khaki shorts talk about temperatures and tectonic plates and everything was terrible.

The only saving grace was that the bus stopped at KFC on the way back to school. I was sitting at one of the greasier tables, enjoying my ribs and wings (for more advice on what’s best at KFC email me directly) when a boy I didn’t know joined me and offered to share his gravy. We became fast friends, taking turns to dip our fingers in the rapidly congealing goo and talking about Ninja Turtles. This boy was from a different school, his name was Naish (no idea on that spelling) and I would never see him again. But until that large gravy was entirely consumed (one finger dip at a time) we were friends.

Here’s the thing, Naish was dead the whole time. Turns out he’d been killed almost 400 years ago at that very same KFC, on that very same day, probably by a murderer or a wizard or something.

See how much more interesting that is?

Text and illustrations copyright © 2021 by Richard Fairgray

Now, instead of me thinking back on some kid with a name I can’t spell talking about mutant reptiles for an hour I get to remember the time I hung out with a ghost. That’s categorically better.

In my life I have seen real ghosts three times. Once in a lighthouse, once in a post office that my friend lived in and once in my house in Hollywood right before I moved out. I’m 36 years old and that seems like nowhere near enough. The place I live now was built in the 80s and nobody has ever died here. My office is in a haunted complex, but the ghosts are all at the very back where I don’t have access. My chances to meet ghosts are disappointingly slim. My chances for meeting people I’ll never see again are much higher, and not just because I’m sort of a lot to deal with.

Now, anytime I am bored by a stranger I can just zone out and imagine how much more interesting their story would be if they’d been dead the whole time. I did this the other day and then I found twenty dollars!

Meet the author

Photo credit: Raymond Goldstone

Richard Fairgray is a writer, artist, and colorist, best known for his work in comic books such as Blastosaurus and Ghost Ghost, and picture books such as Gorillas In Our MidstMy Grandpa Is a Dinosaur, and If I Had an Elephant. As a child he firmly believed he would grow up and eat all the candy he wanted and stay up as late as he liked. By drawing pictures when he wasn’t meant to and reading all the things people told him not to, he has made his dream come true. Black Sand Beach is his first graphic novel series with Pixel+Ink. Richard splits his time between Los Angeles and Surrey, British Columbia, where he is able to work furiously, surrounded by plastic skeletons, dogs, friends, loved ones (and possibly the most comprehensive collection of Courtney Love bootlegs on the planet). 

About Black Sand Beach 2: Do You Remember the Summer Before?

A revelation about how Dash may or may not have spent the summer before raises the stakes even higher in this second installment of the eerie and enthralling Black Sand Beach series, perfect for fans of Gravity FallsRickety Stich, and Fake Blood.

Dash and his crew might have stumbled upon the source of the evil at Black Sand Beach when they stumbled into the abandoned and haunted lighthouse, but when Lily reveals that she found Dash’s journal there, the news is anything but comforting. The book is full of Dash’s reflections on his trip to Black Sand Beach the previous summer. 

Only Dash doesn’t recognize the journal or have any memory of being there. 

As the friends read the entries aloud, through flashbacks Dash’s unsettling encounter with two ghost girls, a truly terrifying monster, and a life changing event make one thing very clear: Black Sand Beach isn’t done with them yet.

Deliciously creepy and difficult to put down, Do You Remember the Summer Before? returns readers to a supernatural shore they’ll never forget.

ISBN-13: 9781645950035
Publisher: Holiday House
Publication date: 05/04/2021
Series: Black Sand Beach
Age Range: 8 – 12 Years

Book Review: Lucky Girl by Jamie Pacton

Publisher’s description

A hilarious and poignant reflection on what money can and cannot fix

58,642,129. That’s how many dollars seventeen-year-old Fortuna Jane Belleweather just won in the lotto jackpot. It’s also about how many reasons she has for not coming forward to claim her prize.

Problem #1: Jane is still a minor, and if anyone discovers she bought the ticket underage, she’ll either have to forfeit the ticket, or worse . . .

Problem #2: Let her hoarder mother cash it. The last thing Jane’s mom needs is millions of dollars to buy more junk. Then . . .

Problem #3: Jane’s best friend, aspiring journalist Brandon Kim, declares on the news that he’s going to find the lucky winner. It’s one thing to keep her secret from the town — it’s another thing entirely to lie to her best friend. Especially when . . .

Problem #4: Jane’s ex-boyfriend, Holden, is suddenly back in her life, and he has big ideas about what he’d do with the prize money. As suspicion and jealousy turn neighbor against neighbor, and no good options for cashing the ticket come forward, Jane begins to wonder: Could this much money actually be a bad thing?

Amanda’s thoughts

When Jane realizes she holds the winning ticket to a massive lottery ($58 million), it should maybe seem like her path forward is obvious: CASH THAT THING! But she’s only 17, so it’s both illegal for her to cash it and to have bought it in the first place. She might be able to find someone she trusts over 18 to pass it off to—they could cash it, maybe split some of the money—but it’s not just that simple. Every option seems fraught with lots of drawbacks, especially her most obvious option, her mother, who’s a hoarder. Jane can just picture her burying their already crowded house in more STUFF with access to that kind of money. And then there’s the fact that Jane’s been looking into the lives of other lottery winners and discovering that many of them become full of drama and tragedy after cashing their winning ticket. OH, and her best friend, Bran, is leading the charge for trying to track down who the winner is while the entire town gossips and speculates while they wait for the winner to come forward.

This is a short and fast-paced read, with Jane’s many hesitations bringing so much depth to the story of “girl wins lottery.” I love her friendship with Bran, her thoughtfulness, and what she ultimately ends up doing. I am also now the founder of the I Hate [NAME REDACTED] club. Go read the book—I bet you’ll have no problem realizing who I am talking about and joining me. Pacton does a great job of drawing out this will-she-or-won’t-she story and giving readers plenty to think about as Jane struggles with what to do. Short, sweet, and satisfying.

Review copy (ARC) courtesy of the publisher

ISBN-13: 9781645672081
Publisher: Page Street Publishing
Publication date: 05/11/2021
Age Range: 14 – 17 Years

A Second Look at Second Chances, a guest post by Miel Moreland

For some people, high school is marked by grass-stained jerseys or student council budget debates. For three years, my high school experience largely centered on headsets, blocking scripts, and knowing actors’ lines better than they did. By the fall play of my junior year, I was the lead stage manager. I loved the camaraderie with the rest of the crew, the thrill of trust and responsibility that came with carrying the keys and knowing the codes, the thousand details to coordinate. The gaffer tape.

But that fall was also marked by my first bout with depression, and my anxiety—which in retrospect, had appeared throughout my childhood—surged. The high-pressure, time-consuming nature of stage managing further eroded my mental health. By the time I called the show’s final light cue, I knew something would have to give.

After the spring musical, I quit tech crew altogether. A decade on, I still believe this is one of the best decisions I have ever made, and certainly one of the most important decisions I made as a teenager.

Our culture is obsessed with perseverance. There’s nothing wrong with perseverance itself—in general, it’s an important mindset to develop—but its glorification in fact inhibits the growth it is usually intended to promote. Because when we are taught only to persevere, we are never taught when it’s actually worth quitting, and certainly not how to quit without shame. We are always supposed to overcome; we are not supposed to “let” anything else—from bigotry to our own mental health challenges—“win.”

May is Mental Health Awareness Month, and I am here to say it’s okay to quit sometimes. There should not be anything shameful in shifting your priorities, especially not a shift that could bolster your well being in another area. I am here to offer the possibility that you can change your mind.

Before the main timeline of my debut, It Goes Like This, the novel’s world-famous queer pop group breaks up. For two of the characters, their quitting the band would hardly register as such, because they leave to pursue other, equally grand artistic endeavors. Culturally, they’re allowed to change their minds, because they choose something acceptable with which to fill the presumed void.

Another band member, however, quits the entertainment industry altogether. Instead of pursuing a solo career, Steph goes home. They spend time with their family; they have the privacy to explore and express their identity. And they worry, when a storm reunites all four of them in their hometown, that the others will judge them for this choice.

Usually when I talk about my novel, I mention the sparks: the broken-up band, the benefit concert, the heartbreak and yearning of the main romance. It is too simple to call it a book of second chances—at friendship, romance, and dreams—because some of it is characters giving themselves permission to take first chances on new dreams.

There’s enormous pressure these days on teenagers to know exactly what they want, very early on. At fourteen or fifteen, you should be starting the right extracurriculars, so you can move into leadership roles by the time you’re applying to college, so you can enter college with a starter résumé that will land you the position on the university newspaper or in the lab.

The narrative goes like this: if you change your mind, at any point after you are fifteen or sixteen, then you’re already behind. You have wasted time, and possibly money. What’s more, it often feels shameful to be wrong about anything, and especially shameful to be wrong about anything you’ve staked yourself publicly to: your identity, your dreams, your plans for your future. When that niggling sensation of wrongness—or, worse, that euphoria of rightness, but from the “wrong” source—arrives, you push it down. It’s too late.

It’s not too late.

I write about ambitious queer kids, but the dark undertow of ambition is the fear that to be anything but is to be considered cowardly or lazy. Sometimes, you realize you need to be on a different path. Sometimes, you’re just tired.

Rest. And if you want, later, get up again, from whatever side of the bed you want.

Meet the author

Photo credit: Lisbeth Osuna Chacon

Miel Moreland was born and raised in Minneapolis, Minnesota. With time spent in California and France, she has a Midwestern heart but wandering feet. When not making pop music references and celebrating fandom, she is likely to be found drinking hot chocolate and making spreadsheets. She currently resides in Boston.

Social links:

Twitter: @MielMoreland

Inta: @readthenfall 

website: www.mielmoreland.com

About It Goes Like This

In Miel Moreland’s heartfelt young adult debut, It Goes Like This, four queer teens realize that sometimes you have to risk hitting repeat on heartbreak.

Eva, Celeste, Gina, and Steph used to think their friendship was unbreakable. After all, they’ve been though a lot together, including the astronomical rise of Moonlight Overthrow, the world-famous queer pop band they formed in middle school, never expecting to headline anything bigger than the county fair.

But after a sudden falling out leads to the dissolution of the teens’ band, their friendship, and Eva and Celeste’s starry-eyed romance, nothing is the same. Gina and Celeste step further into the spotlight, Steph disappears completely, and Eva, heartbroken, takes refuge as a songwriter and secret online fangirl…of her own band. That is, until a storm devastates their hometown, bringing the four ex-best-friends back together. As they prepare for one last show, they’ll discover whether growing up always means growing apart.

ISBN-13: 9781250767486
Publisher: Feiwel & Friends
Publication date: 05/18/2021
Age Range: 13 – 18 Years

The Only List That Matters, a guest post by Francisco X. Stork

A lifetime ago, when I was a sophomore at Jesuit High School in El Paso, Brother Murphy, the school’s librarian, handed me a three-page, single-spaced list of books. I was sitting on one of the long oak tables at the end of the library, my usual place, when he placed the list next to me and said, “You need to read these if you ever want to be a writer of consequence.” He was gone before I could say anything. I don’t know how he found out I wanted to be a writer since that was a secret I guarded carefully. Maybe he figured it out by the type of books I was checking out: Becoming a Writer by Dorothea Brande, Eudora Welty’s One Writer’s Beginnings.

Brother Murphy was always kind but not given to give in to superfluous talk. He never mentioned the list again even when he saw that I was checking out books in the alphabetical order he had listed them. First Antigone then on to Crime and Punishment and Don Quixote. By the time I graduated, I was ten books away from Zorba the Greek, the last book on the list.

It was a very comprehensive list which included books that later surprised me by their inclusion. Nietzsche’s Thus Spoke Zarathustra was there and so was Sons and Lovers by D. H. Lawrence, books which I couldn’t imagine Brother Murphy’s superiors in Rome ever approving. The more books I read, the more it seemed as if Brother Murphy had tailored the list to my specific author-soul specifications. Many years later, when I wrote about a young woman having a mental breakdown, I finally understood why Brother Murphy had included Franny & Zooey and not Catcher in the Rye. But to be honest, there were also a couple of books in there where I think Brother Murphy overestimated my abilities. One of these days, dear Brother, I will finally read James Joyce’s Ulysses all the way through.

What does it mean for a young aspiring writer to have a life-long lover of books take the care and time to create a reading list specifically for him? What happens to a boy full of self-doubt when a revered adult believes in the validity of his dream without diminishing the effort required to get there? The gift of that list was both an affirmation of my fledgling vocation as a writer and a challenge to be a writer “of consequence,” to write the kind of books that could be included in the list.

Fast forward some thirty years. I’m in the basement of my house staring at a shelf of books. Books that I haven’t opened since I started working as a lawyer some twenty years before. I am drowning in a depression caused by an overwhelming sense of time wasted, of talent dissipated of aspirations never realized. What happened to the high school sophomore who wanted to dedicate his life to writing? He thought he could go to law school, get a high-pressure job and write at night or on weekends. But the years went by and with each year came a deeper sadness, a longer distance from the young man’s fire.

Instinctively, I reach for one of the books on Brother Murphy’s list, one I have not opened since high school: Zora Neale Hurston’s Their Eyes Were Watching God. There around page fifty is the list, wrinkled and smudged, folded four times. Most of the books have a checkmark next to them. A few have a checkmark and an asterisk. I take the book and the cell-like-room I call my office, also in the basement. I close the door, and I begin to write a story about a very smart young man growing up in the housing projects of El Paso.  I can almost feel Brother Murphy’s hand on my shoulder, his voice both gentle and firm: “Write something of consequence.”

I am sixty-eight years old now. On the Hook, the novel coming out in May 2021, is a re-visioning of the story I started writing in the basement of my house almost thirty years ago. It is my ninth novel. There are many lists where my books have never appeared. Lists of the books most sold in the past week or month or year, for example. Still, I am sure that Brother Murphy does not hold that against me. Over the years I have slowly come to understand what he meant by “a “writer of consequence” and it does involve having my books make it on to a list.

We all carry powerful invisible lists in our hearts. Sometimes we share those lists with others and sometimes we keep them secretly inside and guard them carefully for the warmth and meaning they give us. One of my dearest lists is of the characters from novels that are and will forever be real for me. Don Quixote and Sancho Panza, Raskalnikov, Aureliano Buendía, Frodo and Sam, Death in The Book Thief are just a few in the list. In my own private interpretation of Brother Murphy’s words, the consequence I aspire as a writer is to have my characters live and remain forever a source of life in the hearts of my readers.

I have another list that originated with Brother Murphy. It consists of the list of librarians who have been moved by my work and who have seen to it that my books are read by the young people who can most benefit from them. I don’t know all the names of the librarians on this very long list, but I would like to live long enough to thank each one of them. The men and women on this list give me standards to uphold and they remind me to write with consequence. They, in turn, carry in their hearts a list of the books that will help a young person live and grow. That’s the only list that matters.

Meet the author

Francisco X. Stork emigrated from Mexico at the age of nine with his mother and his adoptive father. He is the author of nine novels including: Marcelo in the Real World, recipient of the Schneider Family Book Award, The Last Summer of the Death Warriors, which received the Elizabeth Walden Award, The Memory of Light, recipient of the Tomás Rivera Award, Disappeared, which received the Young Adult Award from the Texas Institute of Letters and was a Walter Dean Myers Award Honor Book and Illegal, recipient of the In the Margins Award and the Young Adult Award from the Texas Institute of Letters. On the Hook published in May of 2021 received starred reviews from Booklist, Kirkus Reviews and Publishers Weekly.

Website: www.franciscostork.com

Facebook: Francisco Stork

Instagram:  Francisco_stork

Twitter: @StorkFrancisco

About On the Hook

“You know I’m coming. You’re dead already.”

Hector has always minded his own business, working hard to make his way to a better life someday. He’s the chess team champion, helps the family with his job at the grocery, and teaches his little sister to shoot hoops overhand.

Until Joey singles him out. Joey, whose older brother, Chavo, is head of the Discípulos gang, tells Hector that he’s going to kill him: maybe not today, or tomorrow, but someday. And Hector, frozen with fear, does nothing. From that day forward, Hector’s death is hanging over his head every time he leaves the house. He tries to fade into the shadows — to drop off Joey’s radar — to become no one.

But when a fight between Chavo and Hector’s brother Fili escalates, Hector is left with no choice but to take a stand.

The violent confrontation will take Hector places he never expected, including a reform school where he has to live side-by-side with his enemy, Joey. It’s up to Hector to choose whether he’s going to lose himself to revenge or get back to the hard work of living.

ISBN-13: 9781338692150
Publisher: Scholastic, Inc.
Publication date: 05/18/2021
Age Range: 12 Years

Book Review: Strange Creatures by Phoebe North

When I’m reviewing books for professional publications, I stay quiet about them on social media. I’m always really excited once a review comes out to be able to talk about the book, finally! Here’s one of my most recent reviews, a STARRED review, which originally appeared in an issue of School Library Journal.

HarperCollins/Balzer + Bray. Jun. 2021. 544p. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9780062841155.

 Gr 9 Up–Fantasy, trauma, abuse, and grief are explored through the lives of white Jewish siblings who feel they are a soul shared between two bodies, their lives and minds braided together in ways that seem otherworldly. Annie and Jamie live the truest versions of their lives in Gumlea, a safe, sacred fantasy world in the woods behind their house, where they encounter harpies, mermaids, and feral children. In the real world, they don’t fit right. Jamie learns to turn off his feelings and go along to get along. Annie doesn’t mind being abrasive and strange, but worries she’s losing Jamie. When Jamie disappears as a young teen, Annie’s world is shattered. She becomes consumed with the idea that Jamie must somehow be trapped in Gumlea—she can see him there, with ships and pirates and ropes, their sanctuary now a prison. After Annie begins to date Indian American Vidya, Jamie’s ex-girlfriend, she descends into what looks like madness, gathering supplies for a ritual to open the Veil and bring Jamie back so she can be whole again. The story follows them from birth through Annie’s college years. Chapters begin with bits of their Gumlea stories, which serve as allegory and revelation. Narration is shared by Jamie, Annie, and Vidya to powerful effect. Readers will puzzle over just where the reality is in all the fantasy as they delve deeper into the siblings’ richly imagined paracosm.

VERDICT A devastatingly tragic and deeply immersive masterpiece.

Sunday Reflections: Our Journey to Graduation with A. S. King

It was a Mother’s Day weekend in 2012 when I read my first A. S. King book and it changed my life. After reading Ask the Passengers, I took a walk and saw a small yellow flower and wrote a letter to A. S. King in my head, which I eventually posted on this blog.

To this day, when I see small yellow flowers peeking out of the ground, I think of Amy.

At the time, Riley was only 10 years old and had not read a King book yet, but that would soon change. Now, she has read them all, many of them multiple times. And as I reflect this Mother’s Day and in the month in which Riley finally graduates high school, I can’t help but thing that in many ways, Amy helped me raise this child of mine.

So it seems fitting that we end Riley’s high school career with a new A. S. King young adult novel, SWITCH. Switch comes out on Tuesday and yes, we’ve both read it. And yes, we both loved it.

The heart of switch is a simple idea repeated over and over again by our main character, Truda: the world would be a much better place if people just gave a shit about other people. And here we are in the midst of a global pandemic, and it’s clear that this issue is at the heart of what the world is really wrestling with. How much different would this past year have been if people just gave a shit about each other? I think Truda might be on to something.

Switch is a surrealist novel that takes place right after time has stopped, for reasons unknown. And like all King’s novels, Switch asks us to dive into the muck and the mire of the adolescent struggle with identity and mental health and it’s not always an easy read. And I don’t mean easy as in word counts and Lexile levels, I mean it’s not easy because it deals with hard truths about dark facts that we need to shine a light on. This was, for us both, one of the hardest reads in part because it was not just real and raw and honest, but because it was so timely. Here was sat reading a book about time literally stopping and a teen protagonist trying to unbox hard emotional truths during a year in which it seemed that time had literally stopped and we were all trying to unbox hard emotional truths. It was like an Amy from the future had come back in time and given us this timely book and we were in awe of her wisdom and insight.

The thing about reading an A. S. King book, well at least one of them, is that they sit with you long afterwards. Riley and I have conversations at random moments about A. S. King novels. In fact, the book we have talked about the most is the one that she says she likes the least, The Dust of 100 Dogs, and we talk often about the mother/daughter dynamic and parental guilt and manipulation and becoming your own person. The book she has re-read the most is I Crawl Through It, the one that I like the least (sorry Amy). I think Still Life with Torando and Dig are her other top favorites. But to be honest, that sometimes changes.

So here I sit on another Mother’s Day thinking about the books of A. S. King and how they have changed my life, changed me. I can not tell you how blessed I feel that my teenage daughter also loves these books and we got to share this reading journey together. I feel that in some ways, A. S. King is a thread that has woven us closer together as mother and daughter, her words the thread and her book spines the backbone. As I think about Riley graduating, I can’t help but be grateful for every blessed moment with her. And to share something that you both so deep and profoundly love: unspeakable joy.

The first time I met A. S. King in person was at a librarian conference in Texas. I cried. I have met A. S. King in person at several conferences since then and I cry every time. Riley makes fun of me when I go to a conference, saying if I see A. S. King there don’t cry. And each time I do, I call and tell her that I cried and she says, “of course you did mom.” I think she thinks they are star struck tears but they are tears of gratitude. Tears of hope and joy and strength for all that she has given me, as a librarian, as a mother, as a human trying to live on this speck of a rock in an infinite universe. Tears of gratitude for the relationship she helped me build with a daughter that I love.

The high school years were not always easy. As a mother with a depression and an anxiety disorder, genetics was cruel and I shared that bad brain with this kid that I love. And then the pandemic happened and it all became so much harder. There were nights this past year where I sat outside my daughter’s bedroom door as she slept, praying for her, because I knew that the demons of doubt and desperation were dancing in her head and I wanted to be there if she needed me. I have tried to give my child tools to deal with the panic attacks and the tears and sometimes, those tools included the respite of a book. Sometimes they have included the affirmation of a story in which a young woman thinks and feels the same things and you know that you are both going to be okay. I know that for Riley, sometimes those books were penned by A. S. King.

So later this month I will watch my child cross home plate (their graduation is going to be at a baseball field because Covid) as someone puts a diploma in her hand and there is a part of me that will be thanking A. S. King for this moment. I feel in some ways like it is the three of us crossing that home plate together, at least in spirit. And then I have to let her leave the safety of my home and become an actual grown up in a cold, cruel world where a lot of us have truly forgotten how to give a shit about other people, and I am quaking in my boots up all night terrified.

So here I am on Mother’s Day, thinking about A. S. King and what it means to be a messy, flawed, broken human being and asking this great big world to please, just start giving a shit about other people again. And read more books. I recommend you start with some A. S. King ones.

About SWITCH

A surreal and timely novel about the effects of isolation and what it means to be connected to the world from the Printz Award-winning author of Dig.

Time has stopped. It’s been June 23, 2020 for nearly a year as far as anyone can tell. Frantic adults demand teenagers focus on finding practical solutions to the worldwide crisis. Not everyone is on board though. Javelin-throwing prodigy Truda Becker is pretty sure her “Solution Time” class won’t solve the world’s problems, but she does have a few ideas what might. Truda lives in a house with a switch that no one ever touches, a switch her father protects every day by nailing it into hundreds of progressively larger boxes. But Truda’s got a crow bar, and one way or another, she’s going to see what happens when she flips the switch.